A long time ago, the archaeological world was turned on its head by Stonehenge Decoded, a book by an astronomer that suggested Stonehenge was a complex astronomical calculator. The archaeologists didn’t seem too pleased at the intervention of an outsider, but they did eventually take on some of the ideas from the book (it seems to be accepted that other of the ideas were taking astronomical alignments too far).
The same thing seems to have happened with some aspects of Robert Bauval’s theories, excellently laid out in the highly readable The Egypt Code. In that book, Bauval put forward astronomical explanations for the positions and alignments of many Egyptian structures (including the great pyramids), and even for special shafts in the structures that allowed for certain sightings to be taken. Once again, the initial reaction was dismissal, but since then the Egyptologists seem to have grudgingly accepted some of the astronomical data, while still leaving some of it out in the cold.
Now Bauval is back with a co-writer, new structures from ancient Egypt, and another theory to wind up the experts. It has to be said straight away that this book doesn’t work nearly so well as its predecessor. It has too much technical detail, the newly discovered structures are a lot less impressive than those covered in the first book, while his underlying theory is difficult to prove.
Bauval introduces us to a miniature stone circle out in the Sahara that seems to date back to a prehistoric period of Egyptian civilization, the precursor of the ancient Egypt we know and love. Assuming the whole thing isn’t a hoax, it’s both fascinating and saddening to see these relics studied – and messed up by a seeming lack of care from the local authorities that end up with one of the most significant stones smashed into two and the whole stone circle removed from its position.
Some of the alignments and links seem very sensible, but there is always a certain danger when discovering alignments. I was reminded of another book by an image Bauval shows of an alignment fitting with a notch in a hill. This was Alfred Watkins’ book The Old Straight Path, which introduced the concept of ley lines. There are, without doubt, some ancient routes and pathways that can now be represented as ley lines, but many of Watkins’ alignments (which often used notches in hills) simply reflect how easy it is to set up alignments when there are so many objects to choose from. It has recently been pointed out that every postcode in the UK can be put into an alignment with at least 3 ancient structures. Alignments are just going to happen sometimes, and it doesn’t necessarily signify an intention.
The underlying theory of Bauval’s book is that the ancient Egyptians were black, or at least had black ancestors. Of course this has to be true, depending on how far you go back – we all have black ancestors, assuming the ‘out of Africa’ theory is correct. But Bauval highlights various pointers that suggest the ancient Egyptians were more directly descended from black African tribes.
All in all, then, an interesting but not hugely readable book that should intrigue anyone with an interest in ancient Egypt, but that leaves a number of questions unanswered.
Review by Brian Clegg